WASHINGTON, D.C.----So judging from an optional skate at Verizon Center, some interviews and observations, it appears the Rangers will deploy the same lineup against the Capitals tonight that closed the season against the Devils. Coach John Tortorella, when I asked about the lineup this morning, declared that he was not taking questions about that or injuries from here on in.
But eliminating the injured players (more news on that is posted on newsday.com): Brian Boyle---who is closer to returning---Marc Staal and Derek Dorsett, who all skated, Ryane Clowe, who did not, and a spare forward, Micheal Haley, this projects to be the lineup for Game One at at 7:30 p m.:
Here’s Tortorella on three topics: the improvement in Mats Zuccarello in his second stint with the club, the d-pairings, and line changes.
On Zuccarello, who has three goals and five assists in 15 games since returning from the KHL.
“He’s in better shape,” he said. “He’s a quicker player; he certainly understands how we play away from the puck much better. You talk about all the deals we made, signing him was a real important thing for us to give us some offense and creativity and he adds some personality to our team.”
Tortorella admitted he was surprised at the change in the diminutive Norwegian winger.
“First thing I thought of when we talked about bringing him back was how important those shootouts are in the regular season and that’s all I was looking at. But then when you saw how he presented himself and how he looked, right away…I think it’s a great story. He’s playing in my top six right now.”
The coach recalled Rick Nash’s goal against the Devils in the final game of the season that Zuccarello set up in the offensive zone.
“He just held onto the puck and let everybody go by him and allowed the ice to open up for himself,” Tortorellas said. “Instead of panicking and being too quick with the puck or throwing it away to someone who’s covered, he allowed everybody to fall off him. It was a bang-bang play. The play doesn’t happen unless he has the presence of just holding on to the puck, and that’s what he brings, you can’t teach that, it’s creativity offensively. And what I respect about him is how much work he’s put into it, that would allow me to put him on the ice and not feeling he’s going to hurt us. We play so many close games, he has really worked at that and everything’s grown within himself.”
On Zuccarello and the trade deadline acquisitions: “It’s given us a full lineup….I felt right away (early in the season) that I couldn’t do anything within a game to create a push or change a line and I think we found that. I m hoping we get healthier. It’s allowed us more minutes to sustain; you guys just think it’s changing lines just for the sake of changing lines and I’m an idiot, but it’s important in certain situations.”
On sometimes using shutdown defense tandem Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi on different pairs for balance:
“We’ve done that a lot this year, and we’ll see tonight, depending on their lineup. I’m glad we had the opportunity to go about that, I think it’ll be seamless…”
Some thoughts from Chris Kreider on his second NHL playoff experience? That's coming up...